Tag: PCI-DSS (Page 1 of 10)

Let’s Talk v4: Overview

So, on March 31st 2022, PCI-DSS v4.0 dropped on us.

The original timeline for v4.0 has already passed a long time back. Back in 2019, there had been talks that v4 would drop in late 2020. Then due to the global pandemic of unknown origins, it was moved to 2021 and now finally, they decide to release it in 2022. We all know PCI SSC loves deadlines. They love the whooshing noise deadlines make as they go by.

First of all, let’s start with another quote from the wisest sage of all generations:

Don’t Panic.

Douglas Adams

Because if we take a look at the timeline below, there’s a pretty long runway to adopt v4.0.

The above basically means this:

a) Entities undergoing PCI right now, whether it’s first time or renewals, if you are going to be certified in 2022, your current cycle and next renewal in 2023 can stay with v3.2.1.

b) Entities thinking to go through PCI-DSS, and will likely be certified in 2023, you can stay with v3.2.1 for this cycle, and then for the next renewal up in 2024, you will need to move to v4.0

Long story short, entities have 1.5 years to stay on PCIv3.2.1 and go v4.0 on your 2024 cycle. That doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything from now till then of course. Depending on your processes, there may be some changes. However, it’s not too crazy and it’s more incremental than anything else, including areas where we are already practicing , but was not noted in v3.2.1 (example being anti-phishing controls, which have been a staple for most of our FSI clients).

So we’re going to have a few breakdown of areas we think is fairly relevant to note in v4.0; a deeper dive into requirements that are added or changed, and more importantly how we think a company can move forward in preparation.

Of course that being said, the v4.0 is only 3 weeks old. A toddler in terms of its predecessors. Let’s put it into perspective. PCIv1 (and its sub versions 1.1 and 1.2) lasted almost 6 years from 2004 – 2010.

PCIv2 lasted half that time from 2010 – 2013.

PCIv3 and its sub-versions (3.1, 3.2, 3.2.1) lasted from 2013 to 2022. That’s 9 years old. So in retrospect, we are literally in the 0.6% timeline for v4 if it were to follow the v3 age. Meaning, there could be a lot of changes yet to come, or clarifications or explanations etc.

Over the life of v3, we’ve seen many supplementary documents (for scoping, logging, penetration testing, risk management etc) churned out in support to clarify v3 items. While not part of the standard itself, these supplementary documents and hundreds of FAQs are generally quoted or referenced by us to support our arguments for and against some of the decisions that QSAs put to our clients. These are extremely useful especially when QSAs put in some pretty daft interpretations of the requirements (see our previous post on CDD).

There has been some extremely subtle changes aside from the major ones and we want to note these items in page 4 of v4:

PCI DSS is intended for all entities that store, process, or transmit cardholder data (CHD) and/or sensitive authentication data (SAD) or could impact the security of the cardholder data environment (CDE).

Some PCI DSS requirements may also apply to entities with environments that do not store, process, or transmit account data – for example, entities that outsource payment operations or management of their CDE.

In accordance with those organizations that manage compliance programs (such as payment brands and acquirers); entities should contact the organizations of interest for more details.

pci v4.0 warning to those entities that scream i am out of scope because i don’t store, transmit or process stuff!

There’s a lot of things we dislike about v4.0. But there’s a lot of things we LIKE about it as well. So it’s like that family trip that you are taking with your entire extended family. There’s that cousin that you completely dislike that you wish you don’t need to make small conversations with – you know, the one that constantly name drops and questions whether you have achieve as much as he has in life. And tries to coach you to be a better person and live a better life, and have more than your currently unfulfilling, loveless marriage and a deadend, purposeless job as a PCI-DSS consultant. Yeah, you know it. But at the same time, you like these trips because it’s time with your family as well, and time to goof off with your kids, walk on the beach with your spouse and basically fantasize throwing your cousin into a pit full of vipers. v4.0 is like that trip.

The main takeaways from the above quote would be

a) No more free passes to those entities who claim they are out of scope simply because they don’t store, process or transmit card data. If you have impact on the security of the CDE, then you are in.

b) First time we are seeing the word “Organizations of Interest”. While this is nothing much, it’s like watching a movie in the cinema that’s based on a comic book and you see an obscure easter egg referencing to that comic and you get goosebumps because you know, you’re a nerd. And you like this kind of subtle references that no one else knows about. Basically OIs are the upstream customers, banks, FSI, organisations that are requesting your PCI-DSS compliance. It’s easier now to make this reference as it is now an official term in v4.0. Yay.

c) Organizations that ‘impact security’ is in. Previously the problem is that we had outsourced SOC/NOC, or outsourced providers that do not handle card data (e.g managed providers for firewalls etc) and even cloud services that handle the MFA or authentication generation, claiming that there is no card data, therefore they don’t need PCI. That’s fair enough, but we still need to assess that service as part of an on-demand assessment to ensure that that service is properly secured or at least has basic security functionality over it. While a majority of providers are fine with this, we have had antagonistic providers shouting to high heaven that we are idiots because of the very fact that they do not store, process or transmit card data; they should be completely disregarded from the PCI assessment. Um. No. You’re not and V4.0 is smacking you in the face for this.

Another item on v4.0 is the sheer amount of information they provide right at the beginning of the standard. They are talking about the scoping methods, segmentation, encryption and applicability on third party providers, use of third party providers and how to be compliant with them, BAU best practices, sampling methods, definition of timeframes, definition of words like significant changes, approaches to implementation of PCI-DSS, testing methods, assessment process, RoC writing and if you look carefully, there is also a recipe in there for Jamie Oliver’s Yorkshire Pudding.

In the previous v3.2.1, the requirements started on page 20. In v4.0 the requirements start on page 43. The total number of pages in v4.0 is 360, up 158% from the previous 139 pages. So, simply put, you are going from reading Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Goes to Finniston Farm to Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

The requirements themselves remain as 12, so in essence, despite all the fluff at the beginning, the actual requirements are still intact. There’s quite a fair bit of items to look at, and here we provide a brief overview of it:

a) Customized implementation

So, we have this outcomes-based implementation of PCIv4. This is based on the purpose or the ‘spirit’ of the requirements and may not necessarily use the standards-defined controls to achieve it. So, for instance, the requirement to do quarterly internal scans – the objective is to identify vulnerabilities in a regular interval and to ensure that the organisation addresses this vulnerability. Instead of having an option for on-demand scanning, the organisation may opt to sign up for a continuous analysis and automated scanning that are available in cloud such as Google or AliCloud. So while the controls are different, it addresses the same objective.

It is noted that custom implementation should only be done by organisations with a mature risk management practice in place, as this requires more work for the organisation and the QSA to define tests of these controls.

On how this is implemented or samples of it, I am sure we will be seeing more examples as the standard starts maturing. Remember, v4.0 is still a baby, not even out of the maternity ward yet.

b) Multi-factor and Passwords

Multi factor is now needed for any access into the CDE. So, we call in Multi-Multi Factor – whereby, an MFA is required for remote users to get into the network, and from the non-cde network, to get into the CDE, it requires additional MFA. It would seem fairly straightforward, but companies now have to consider to implement a jump server in the CDE to act as a control aggregator to go to multiple systems in the CDE – or they could just deploy another MFA solution on the network .

Passwords are to be changed to 12 alphanumeric up from 7. There’s still a runway on this as it is only considered standard in 31 March 2025. A lot of things can happen from now till then and a lot of technology can change. We could be facing global climate crisis and end of the world, or world war 3 nuclear warfare, or an asteroid could hit earth, or the Rapture happens, you know, future stuff. But in case none of those things come to past, then yeah, make sure you move your passwords to 12 alphanumeric.

c) Group Accounts

8.2.2 gives a needed reprieve on this kerfuffle of having group accounts. In v3.2.1, this is disallowed, but v4.0 , it is allowed, based on the rule of common sense. Some systems do have group accounts for a purpose, or is unable to provide certain functionality to individual accounts. So while there is now more justifications etc needed, it’s no longer a hard no for group accounts.

d) Targeted risk analysis

Targeted risk analysis can now be done to determine the frequency of certain actions – such as password changes, POI device inspections, non-CDE log reviews, low vulnerabilities remediation, FIM review, frequency of training etc. Now while we want to believe that the PCI-SSC idea on having this is for organizations to change frequencies of controls to be MORE stringent (example to have the password changed every 30 days instead of 90 days), the reality is that most of us would stretch this requirement to make life a lot easier for us. I mean, what’s the point of having flexibility if you can’t make it as flexible (i.e as little work to be done) as possible, right?

e) Card data discovery (CDD)

Card Data Discovery Scans – CDD. There is finally some clarifications on Card Data scans to be done every 12 months and to clarify what we have already covered in our previous post in educating the QSA on how to interpret the particular CDD requirement. So yeah, kudos PCI-SSC for supporting us!

d) Misc – Anti Phishing and Full Disk Encryption

As mentioned previously, we now have references to Anti-Phishing requirements, which should have been there long before, to be honest.

We have clarifications which will have significant impact to some of our clients – the use (or abuse) of the full disk encryption requirement. V4.0 has basically blocked that way out for some of our customers utilising Bitlocker with TPM to get past Requirement 3. This is , to us, a fairly significant item of v4.0 which we will be dedicating a post later on it.

Well, so that’s it for the overview for now. We hope to get more articles out to do deeper dives into v4.0 but like I said, it’s still early days and there would be more clarifications ahead. Hopefully it will be more positive, and the experience of v4.0 will be less like that family outing with the cousin that should be thrown into a pit of vipers.

Contact us at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com for any queries you have on PCI and we will get back to you immediately.

PCI-DSS 2022 and Version 4

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So we are now in 2022. PCI-DSS v4.0 is due to be out and one of the things we have been doing for the first two weeks of the year is to get over our holiday hangovers. That’s right. In our country (Malaysia), the slowest months are December, January and February. It’s like starting a car in the dead of winter. These 3 months are like the Amen Corner in Augusta for businesses. December hits like a ton of bricks due to the Christmas season; and then just when things start moving in January, it grinds to a halt for Chinese New Year, where the entire nation just flat out refuses to work. When we are back in the second week of Chinese New Year, we are once more in first gear climbing up the hill again of 2022.

So we did things a bit differently. We started the first two weeks with a series of training for clients and potential clients, to go through PCI-DSS v4.0 and create an awareness of what is there to expect.

The above is taken from the PCI website and immediately we see some interesting things here. Number one: PCI-DSS v3.2.1 only retires in 2024. This is interesting, because usually the transition period isn’t so long. It’s long now because – I don’t know, there may be an ongoing pandemic and such. So here we are Q1 2022, and our customers are asking when do we transition to v4.0?

Well, the answer would be: as soon as you can. But in theory, you can probably stick to v3.2.1 validation for 2022 and realistically move to v4.0 in 2023. In fact, for some of our clients whose PCI maintenance period follows the calendar year, they can even force 3.2.1 into their 2023 validation year.

As for the actual content in PCI v4, it’s still a well kept secret like the plot of Spiderman: No Way Home; but we have been reading a bit and also have joined last year’s PCI-DSS community meeting and learnt some interesting tid-bits of it.

No 1: Compensating Controls

The-get-out-of-jail-free card. Customers have been dangling this Compensating Controls card in front of our faces ever since the Mesopotamian times. When they can’t address a control – use compensating controls! When they cannot implement something due to budget – compensating controls! When they can’t make changes to an application because it was designed by a group of kindergarten kids and it would break the moment you touch it – Compensating Controls! When you don’t know what to say to your wife after a long night out at the pub with the mates and come back smelling like a keg of kerosene – Compensating Controls!

The problem with compensating controls is that they are a pain in the neck to implement and to document. And to justify. The compensating control worksheet, the justification documentation, the implementation of the control itself to be ‘above and beyond’ the scope of PCI-DSS etc. Everyone things this is a silver bullet only to find it the deepest rabbit hole you can ever fall into.

So, PCI v4 does away with compensating controls. Great.

And they introduce Customized Implementation.

A lot of people are saying this is a game changer.

Honestly? Until more information comes out, we only have this to go with:


Customized implementation considers the intent of the objective and allows entities to design their own security controls to meet it. Once an organization determines the security control for a given objective, it must provide full documentation to enable their Qualified Security Auditor (QSA) to make a final decision on the effectiveness of a control.

Cryptic PCI v4 DOCUMENTATION

Design their own security controls? Well, ok, isn’t this the same as compensating controls? I am thinking this just expands the interpretation to something a bit broader in which case the control may not even be a technical control. So instead of stating , ok, we can’t meet certain password controls due to the legacy application issue, and compensating controls were previously excessive logging and monitoring; isolation of network, whitelisting of IPs and access; using WAF and DLP and Virtual patching etc etc; are we stating now, a possible customized approach would be: instead of all these technical controls; we now have a customized security approach. Which includes isolation of network, whitelisting of IPs and access; using WAF and DLP and Virtual patching etc etc.

Until we see some examples of this, it may just be well that most companies will go along with the ‘normal’ approach; or adopt a wait and see approach and eke out the last remaining drop of v3.2.1. into 2024.

No 2: UP in the Clouds

Another item that has been long overdue? Cloud. It’s about time things get addressed and not just cloud, but how services and containers work as well. We have had auditors coming to our clients insisting on them doing testing, VA/PT on services from AWS, not recognizing there’s not even an IP address to start with. To be fair to the SSC, they do have a few Cloud Guidelines Supplementary documentation, which we actually find very useful especially in our projects on certifying cloud technologies. We can see this being incorporated more formally into v4.0 where the requirements will be designed around Cloud environment more organically than what we see right now (sort of force-fitting many of the traditional concepts like Network IDS, Patching etc into the cloud environment).

No 3: Not another MF-A!

I have a bad feeling about this.

MFA has been a constant pain for us. Firstly, where MFA is being implemented – not just on perimeter but now on every access to the CDE. At least it’s now still on admin accounts. We hear they plan to introduce for ALL users. We also hear the collective screams of the tormented from the nine hells of Dante. Secondly, a lot of customers are still depending on MFA via SMS. If PCI goes along the NIST route, we could see this being deprecated soon. Also, clarifications as well on whether client side certificate are acceptable as a ‘something you have’ factor would be most welcomed. We see different QSAs interpreting this so differently you’d think we’ve asked them to interpret some ancient Thuggee text. Multi-factor challenges are already there for us over the past years, with Bank Negara’s RMIT focus on ‘strong MFA’ for large financial institutions. A clear guidance also should be there on how to evaluate multi-factor that is dependent on a cloud provider; and whether common implementation like Google Authentication etc can still be considered as good enough for V4.0

No 4: Encrypting everything

We also hear now that the “Pocket Protector Trope” security may be implemented. Remember those movies we watch, where the hero gets shot in the chest and you think he dies but he reveals that the bullet is stopped by his pocket watch; his badge; a bible; or some other dang sentimental thing that was given to him like 40 scenes ago?

So in PCI, usually when data is traversing the internet or network, it states the transmission needs to be encrypted. It doesn’t technically state anything about encrypting the data package itself while in transmission. The data encryption almost exclusive occurs during data at rest. So in this case, they are doubling the protection: They are adding that pocket watch to catch the bullet; so if the transmission gets compromised, the data is still secured. The bullet doesn’t hit the hero!

No 5: Recovery and Continuity

Not so much as something coming, but more of what we’d like to see. One of the biggest criticism we see customers bemoaning at PCI (other than the cost and budget and the complexity and..ok, everything else) – is that PCI has little focus on business continuity and disaster recovery. It’s almost as if PCI is standing there saying, “OK, you have outage for a few days? Great, make sure your credit card information is safe.” It’s not really business focused, it’s more credit card confidentiality focus. What we would like to see is a little more focus on this area. Over the past 2 years, we have seen customers getting all sorts of attacks from cyberspace. Malware, ransomware, hacking, fraud, defacement — it’s like the world goes into a pandemic and everyone’s bored to bits at home and everyone is taking up hacking as a part time gig. Malware for instance – how prepared is a PCI compliant company against ransomware attack? Have they done their backups? Have they tested their systems to recover?

So, if you have any queries on PCIv4 for us, drop us an email at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com and we will definitely get back to you. Have a great and safe year ahead for 2022!

PCI-DSS: Estimating the Cost

Ah money.

This is how most conversations start when we receive calls from PCI. How much will it cost?

I think this is one of the toughest subject for PCI, because it really depends on what is being done by the service provider/consultant for you, and how much you can actually do the implementation of PCI-DSS on your own. And obviously it also depends on your scope, and on top of that, depends on compensating controls if any, or any current controls you have in place. And then it also depends on the validation type – SAQ vs RoC and so on.

So, in the classic riposte to this classic question, it would be “It depends”.

Where we really need to clear the air though is the myth that once you have done PCI-DSS the first time, everything gets easier on the renewals and everything gets cheaper year on year going forward. That is for another article. There is a lot of things going on in PCI-DSS, and if you approach it from a product perspective (like most procurement do), you end up either sabotaging your entire compliance, or getting an auditor willing to sign off on God knows what, and later on realise that you’ve been out of compliance scope all the while.

To start with the pricing, you should understand a bit on the cost of PCI-DSS. And we should start with the QSA, because after all they are the focal point of the PCI program. They are the Qualified Security Assessor. Of course, you can opt to do your PCI (if allowed) without a QSA involvement (Merchant level 3 or 4) and just fill up an SAQ with or without assistance from consultants; but for the most part, a QSA would be involved in the signoff for larger projects, and this is where the cost questions take life.

Lets look firstly at the base cost of becoming a QSA. It’s very helpfully listed for us here: https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org/program_training_and_qualification/fees

So here are the maths. Imagine you are a QSA with projects in Malaysia: to start off, you will need to set aside over RM100K just to get you qualified to to audits in the Asian Region. We’re not talking about Europe or Latin America or USA here. Just APAC. That’s qualifying the company. A company, to service any region properly will probably need a bunch of QSAs trained and ready, let’s say around 3 to start off with. Each QSA will need to go for a training costing around RM12 – 13K, so let’s say you have 3 (which is very few), you are setting aside around MYR 50K for that. On top of that, there are obligations such as Insurance Coverage that is specified in the QSA Qualifications Requirement document. So it depends on which insurance you are taking, but it could be in the region of around MYR6K or above premium (spitballing). There is a requalification each year as well.

QSAs then can make their own calculations on how fast/long they need to recover their cost, but let’s say they set aside 200K just to get things set up with 3 or 4 QSAs, then they need to recover that cost. A man day of a QSA/Consultant may range from quite widely in this region but let’s say you decide to price it at “meagre” MYR2K, depending on how senior you have, so overall, you would need to have almost around 1.5 months of engagement of their QSAs just to recover the cost of setting up shop. That’s why its not unreasonable to see higher rates, because of the cost it takes.

You have salaries to consider as well. You also have to consider if something happens to one of your clients, where you happily audited them remotely and believed everything they said, and found out that they have done jack-shoot in their actual environment and you have to handle the fallout of liabilities.

Some procurement compares QSA engagements to firewall engineers. No knock on other technical engineers, but the cost of getting a Checkpoint firewall engineer and the cost to maintain one QSA is a different proposition. I am not saying one is better than another technically (I’ve seen a lot of firewall engineers who could put any auditor into their place, due to their extremely proficient technical skills), I am stating the underlying cost behind the position, which is why PCI-DSS is priced at a rate that’s comparable to say, CMMI, as opposed to say, the ISO9001.

On top of just auditing cost, QSAs take into account the actual support they are giving year on year. Some of them unburden this cost to partners and consultants who have been trained (such as PKF – and there are also other matters such as independence of audit vs implementation advisory which we will discuss later), or some of them take it upon themselves. But you must know the QSAs job is not easy. Aside from auditing and supporting, there is evidence validation and report writing. Then there is the matter of undergoing the Quality Assurance process, which brings more resources/cost to the QSA company. All this while travelling to and from audit sites, reviewing etc – the life of a QSA (ask any QSA) is itinerant and often travel heavy. Burnout may also be a concern, so if the QSAs are involved in the day to day or week to week assistance to their client’s PCI program, this isn’t sustainable.

Understanding all these underlying cost will allow the procurement or whoever is evaluating to understand how to look at projects. If a QSA is pricing extremely low, the question you will need to ask is: What’s being offered? Because all QSAs have more or less the same baseline cost and if a QSA priced themselves at RM800 per man day, and they are a small shop with less than 5 QSAs, what would then be their recovery rate? 200 man days of engagement to recover their initial cost? Most procurement wouldn’t think of things like this and they would just go to their “BAFO” Best and Final Offering – but when you break it down on what is expected, then you would understand that not all PCI offerings are the same. I could simply quote a client 3 man days of QSA work for the final audit and be done. That would be the best and final offering that would win. But what about the healthchecks, the management of the evidences and how they are submitted, the quality checking, the scope optimisation process, the controls checking etc etc?

And in line with our effort estimation, one should also split the pricing into two: Audit and Consultation vs Implementation service and products.

Because if let’s say we find your Requirement 10 is completely empty, and you are thinking to purchase a QRadar SIEM to address it, you could be looking upwards of RM60,000 just to get the product in. Couple that with training for engineers, usage, hiring etc, and you are well over the six figure stage just for Requirement 10! How about testing and application reviews? If you don’t have the personnel on this, then you have to consider setting aside another RM50K etc depending on how many applications/mobile applications/ systems you have in place. So it’s highly essential to have the QSA/consultant assist you in scope reduction. Most may not view it that way, so it’s essential to find an auditor who is experienced and who looks after your interest.

Finally, understand that cost of audit/consulting would be different depending on how you go through PCI-DSS. Level 1 certification requires the effort of validating evidences, doing gap assessments and auditing and writing the RoC. Level 2 SAQ with QSA signoff is slightly easier, as there is no RoC to write while the last option of self signed SAQ without QSA is obviously a lot less costly as you are basically doing a self-signoff. Those are just broad guidelines and not how QSAs may price it, because as I say, due to variables.

You could opt to use the rule of 1/3 when it comes to estimating these costs, although your mileage may vary. For instance, if the QSA throws a RM100K audit fees (comparing it to CMMI fees) for a Level 1 Certification, then a RM60-65K (2/3 of the Level 1) for a SAQ Signoff could be reasonable; and furthermore if you just need them in for consultancy for the non QSA signoff SAQ, it could be 30K (1/3 of the level 1) or so. But note, the SAQ self signoff can be carried out entirely on your own, so the cost could be close to zero as well.

I know its a tough one to place this as pricing varies so often. We aren’t selling a product with specific hardware/software. We are selling a service that will take you through 6 months of work to cover scoping exercise, project meetings, changes, consultancy and advisory, pre-audits and post audits checks, evidence and artefacts sample validations, audit, report writing, training and all the variables in between.

Let us know if you need us to look at your PCI today, drop us a note at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com and we will attend to you immediately!

PCI-DSS: The AoC Problem

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Recently we were reminded once again why we constantly state that PCI-DSS must chuck away the Certification of Compliance for good. Not only it’s an unacceptable documentation to the PCI Council, but it presents a lot of problems for auditors and assessors, as well as organisations seeking PCI-DSS compliance evidence from their service providers.

Let’s go back to how PCI-DSS flows in the first place.

PCI-DSS applies to all organisations that store, process and transmit credit/debit card under the umbrella of Visa, Mastercard, Amex, JCB and Discover/Diner.

Requirement 12.8 further extends the need to manage service providers where card data is being shared, and where “they could impact the security of the customer’s cardholder data environment”. That word is key because many service providers we have spoken to retorts they are out of scope of PCI-DSS of their clients because:

a) They only provide infrastructure and has no access to card data

b) They only store physical copies of forms that are sealed in boxes and they don’t access it

c) They only provide hosting

d) They only provide customer service support

e) They only provide toilet cleaning services

Of the 5 most popular services above, only the last one, we can probably surmise, does not require PCI-DSS. The rest – not to say they are 100% applicable – would require at the very least a bit of scoping to determine if they are applicable or not for PCI. Such is the problem here.

Having established that even, say a cloud service provider that only provides IaaS, requires PCI-DSS, what is then the next problem?

We call it the problem of the AoC. Or rather, the lack-of-AoC. Or more accurately, the-refusal-of-service-providers-to-provide-AoC-since-they-already-have-the-Certificate-of-Compliance problem. Its a very long problem name, so we will just call it the Problem of the AoC.

The AoC is the Attestation of Compliance, which is basically a shortened version of the Report on compliance (ROC) or the Self Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ). So in ALL PCI-DSS Compliance, whether assessed by 3rd party or self assessed, there is an AoC. 100%.

This AoC will describe in summary what are the processes in scope of PCI-DSS AND services that are NOT in scope of PCI-DSS. This is absolute key. In Part 2 of the SAQ, it states the type of service and the name of Service included in the PCI-DSS compliance (below):

Right after that, we need to ensure there may be services being offered that for some reason is NOT assessed for PCI. An example here could be a company offering BPO services, but at the same time offering a payment gateway service. They could be PCI compliant for payment gateway but not compliant for their BPO – even though both would deal with credit cards. So we need due care in determining whether the service we are procuring from them is indeed, PCI Compliant.

This is very important. And the fact that most “Certificate of Compliance” actually does not state the scope of services under PCI-DSS, presents a problem for assessors.

We once had a very animated discussion with a large service provider providing a customer support application to our client that collected credit card information. The service provider insisted they are PCI-DSS compliant and they showed their ‘Certificate of Compliance’. The said their AoC is private and confidential and all of their customers have accepted their Certificate as proof of their compliance, which meant, we are obligated to accept it as well (according to their very animated representatives).

Now, we all know the Certificate of Compliance is as valuable as toilet paper (actually, maybe less, since toilet paper can sometimes be VERY valuable during the pandemic and panic buys) – so we insisted on them showing us their AoC. For the simple reason:

They offered the on-prem application to our client, i.e installed onsite to our client’s environment. Our client says since this application is ‘PCI-DSS’ compliant, we should not need to assess their application under Requirement 6 of PCI-DSS. Hmm.

This doesn’t sound right. The vendor kept insisting that PCI-DSS only requires them to show their Certificate, and that the information in their AoC are private and confidential and we have no right to request from them.

PCI-DSS is applicable to an environment, process and location. You can see these ALL clearly in the AoC. Not in the nonsensical and utterly useless Certificate of Compliance. Why we didn’t believe this was that, because the application was installed in our client’s environment, there shouldn’t be an instance where this application is “PCI-DSS” compliant. At most, they could claim an application to be PA-DSS compliant (or the new SSF compliant) – but that is also impossible as their application wasn’t a payment application related to settlement or authorisation – so it’s not eligible for PA-DSS! So how can this be ‘PCI-DSS Compliant’?

We were at an impasse. Because they refused to give their AoC, we refused to accept their Certificate of Compliance. They lodged a complaint, we stood firm. We were not going to pass our customer on the basis of some hocus-pocus documentation which was clearly NOT acceptable to the PCI council!

Finally, they relented, and gave us a redacted, valid AoC and telling us how wrong we were in insisting on this and we did not know what we were doing. But all we needed to see was the page above – where the scope of compliance was summarised. And in it, stated “XXXX Customer Service Cloud Solution”.

Cloud solution.

We asked the customer, did they subscribe to the cloud solution?

No, they didn’t. It was an on-prem. Installed, lock stock and barrel application into the VM managed by our client. In an environment and location secured by our client.

Wait, said the vendor. The on-prem solution is the same as the cloud solution backend they were using and have been assessed for PCI. So what was our problem? The only difference was that their ‘cloud solution’ was now installed on customer side, so this should still be acceptable.

So, well, that isn’t a cloud solution then, is it? I mean, if you have a secured safe and you put it into your high-security house, would that also mean you can put the same safe in the middle of Timbuktu somewhere and still have the same level of security? (No offense to Timbuktu, we are just using that as a reference…we should stop using it actually but oh well.) Wouldn’t the cloud solution also be assessed for its environment, processes and policies? Would this be the same on the customer end?

The point here, is that based on the AoC, we can clearly say that the PCI compliance isn’t applicable to the on-prem solution. So we still have to assess the application as it is, under Requirement 6, under the client’s PCI program.

This isn’t any ‘victory’ or whatever we can claim, but it is so extremely frustrating to waste so much time on matters that would not be any issue at all, if the problem of the AoC is resolved. Just HAVE THE AoC TO ATTEST PCI-DSS! And stop this Certificate baloney! Because of this, we end up behind schedule and we have to chase up again and again.

So, read the AoC thoroughly before you decide on a vendor/service provider – because the certificate they provide to you could very well be invalid to the services they are actually offering you. Insist on the AoC.

Drop us a note at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com to know more about your compliance. We will respond to you immediately!

ASV Scans /= PCI Compliance

There is an old story about a chicken and eagle. I hear this story being told by life coaches or motivational trainers trying to get through to our thick, jaded, technical skull that there is something more to life than coding and technology.

The abbreviated version is this: A farmer was walking and finds an eagle’s egg fallen out of the nest. He picks it up, brings it back to his farm, and puts it into the chicken coop. Soon, it hatches, and joins the other chickens in the farm and learns how to be a chicken, even though its an eagle. So this is where some of the version diverges.

a) The chicken and the eagle starts talking one day and the eagle notices another eagle flying high in the sky and he goes, “Dang, I wish I could be an eagle,” and his chicken-pal looks at him scornfully and says, “You are a chicken. How can you be like the king of all birds, soaring through the sky?” So the eagle keeps thinking he is a chicken and the next day he gets roasted for dinner. And the farmer finds his meat a bit tough and doesn’t taste like chicken at all. The moral here is: Don’t let your limitations inhibit you or you will end up a cooked and eaten. This is probably the original version before the other two came along below:

b) The farmer is visited by a naturalist who observes this ‘chicken’ and immediately knows he is an eagle. So he takes this chicken up to a high cliff, and throws him over, shouting: “Spread your wings and fly! Soar like the eagle you are meant to be!” And the eagle soars through the clouds and sky and become the king of all birds. The moral of the story: All of us are eagles, even if you think you are a chicken. All you need is a life coach or a motivational trainer to throw you off the ledge and you will soar. This is the preferred version for life coaches and motivational speakers. For obvious reason.

c) Same as story b) above, but instead of soaring, the naturalist throws the ‘chicken’ off the ledge, and it falls 100 feet and splatters its brains all over the bottom of the ledge and dies since it doesn’t know how to fly. And gets cooked and roasted for dinner. The moral of the story (and this is by far, our more preferred, realistic and risk-averse version): Don’t do something you may be destined for but not ready for. Or you will end up smashed, cooked and eaten.

All three versions have this theme in common: The eagle isn’t a chicken and the chicken isn’t an eagle. The chicken may have commonalities of an eagle, like wings and a beak, but just because it has those doesn’t make it an eagle.


Yes, I am aware that the anecdote above isn’t a very good illustration of the point I am trying to make, but I couldn’t think of a better one. And in a roundabout way, what I want to illustrate here is that ASV scans do not make you PCI Compliant.

We get this a lot.

A company would come and say they are PCI-compliant. Or we have a client who outsources certain portion of their operations to another company and that company comes back and shows us their ASV compliant scan and says this is all they need to show us. We (The auditors/consultants) are compelled to accept this because the ASV scans demonstrate their PCI Compliance, they say.

Let’s make a point here: ASV questions and subquestions in the SAQ D covers around 14 queries. Out of around 600. That means ASV covers 2.33% of PCI-DSS. There is a massive load of other controls and items covering PCI-DSS Other than those precious ASV quarterly scans. What about your patching? Hardening? Firewall security? HR policies? Logging and monitoring? Logical access? MFA? Hardening of systems? Anti-virus and host firewalls? What about service provider management? What about vendor default passwords? What about storage, encryption, key management? Software development? Application and penetration testing? Internal vulnerability scans? Training?

You can see how impossible it is to accept just the ASV report as an evidence of PCI compliance, much like how we cannot accept the chicken as an eagle, but yet, we are constantly berated upon that we don’t know what we are doing and that their Banks have accepted their ASV scans as a sign of PCI compliance, so we should to. But we can’t. We can’t accept 2.33% as a 100% of something. It’s simply mathematically not possible.

So there you go – banks. Why do banks perpetuate this myth that PCI compliance = ASV scans? Why? It’s 2.33% of PCI-DSS! You can’t accept something as an eagle just because it has wings and a beak! There’s really no argument about it.

Here is what 2.3% feels like:

a) The number of Jazz music of all US Music sales in 2013

b) Increase in slot machine spending in New Zealand in 2018 Q1

c) Auto parts industry against the US GDP in 2013

d) Android 6.0 Marshmallow installation for all Android devices in July 2016

e) Thats lesser than the % of freshwater we have on this planet (2.5% of water on the planet is freshwater)

I am sure there’s a lot of 2.33% out there on this planet, but the point we are making is this: It’s not compliance. It’s a small but important part of compliance but it’s not compliance. So no matter what your banks tell you, we can never accept the ASV scan as a sign of PCI compliance. It can be accepted as one of the evidences of PCI compliance amongst many, but not as an evidence of complete compliance.

Now, stop calling a chicken an eagle. Let us know about your questions for PCI or any compliance at pcidss@pkfmalaysia.com.

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